It can seem amongst the least mysterious of Liverpool’s parklands, but ‘The Mystery’ it is to all of us who live here, rather than the ‘Wavertree Playground’ it gets called on maps.

We’ll come back to the why and wherefore of this later, but first I want to show you some poppies.

Now The Mystery is effectively a large, west-facing hilly field with an avenue of trees towards the bottom of its hill being its most obvious planting. But up towards its top, as you’ll see from the 1905 map below, there used to be some ‘sheep pens.’ And this area is still rougher than the grassed over rest of the place. Wild flowers are allowed to grow there, and at the moment there are hundreds of bright red poppies in flower.

OS map of Wavertree, 1905.
OS map of Wavertree, 1905 (Click on the map to see it in detail).

The poppies are only a couple of hundred yards from where we live, so I’ll go and get you some photographs.

Poppies in evening sunlight, after rain.
Poppies in evening sunlight, after rain.

Yes, it had just rained, heavily. And the splendid poppies of this morning had been seriously battered!

Ragged Robin there too.
Ragged Robin there too.
And cornflowers.
And cornflowers.
But plenty more poppy buds to open over the next few days.
But plenty more poppy buds to open over the next few days.
To brighten up our not all that mysterious hillside!
To brighten up our mysterious hillside! Liverpool Cathedral visible there in the distance.

So why ‘The Mystery’ then? Well because it was donated to the City in 1895 by a ‘mysterious donor.’

It had been the grounds of a large merchant house called ‘The Grange’ (hence the avenue of trees?). But this had been demolished and it was expected that the land would be used for housing, as Liverpool was expanding rapidly at the time. However, this ‘mysterious donor’ had bought the estate and some adjoining properties, levelled and grassed the area – eradicating the ornamental lake that was once a feature of the grounds – and suggested the name ‘Wavertree Playground’ to Liverpool City Council when he gave it to them. He said it was to be a venue for organised sports, and a place for children from the city’s public schools to run about in, not a park for ‘promenading’ in the Victorian tradition.

So as such it became one of the first purpose built public playgrounds in the country, and we live just next to it.

Our house was being built when the map above was issued, our road ‘Earlsfield’ running from roughly where ‘Field House’ was on the map, down to Smithdown Road.

Anyway, after the mysterious donation the name ‘The Mystery’ stuck, even though it was fairly quickly suggested that the ‘mysterious donor’ was ship-owner Philip Holt, who lived a couple of miles away at Sudley House. But as there’s some confusion over whether he ever confirmed it was him, I like to think that some sense of mystery continues.

The Mystery in 1910.
The Mystery in 1910.

Over the course of the 20th Century The Mystery was often used for large public events. In 1907 for the celebration of Liverpool’s 700th birthday, and then for many years as the site of the Liverpool Show, a horticultural, agricultural and civic occasion with attendances over the three day event often exceeding 100,000, apparently.

The Liverpool Show, 1962.
The Liverpool Show, 1962.

Liverpool Shows in the 1950s and 60s are my earliest memories of The Mystery, though they had petered out by the time I came to live here in 1991. It was briefly revived later on in the 90s, though without any horticulture or agriculture. And is now only survived by a little funfair that still pluckily turns up over the end of May bank holiday weekend, when the Show would have been.

The Liverpool Show, what remains.
The Liverpool Show, what remains.

Here and there still, around The Mystery, are curious little crested cabinets like this, containing? I have a vague memory of seeing one open once and it contained ancient electrics. Connections for long-ago Show stalls, who knows?

But Liverpool shows or not, The Mystery is still mainly used for the children of the city, including me, to run around in. When I first moved here this included a lot of amateur football, several matches taking place at the same time every Sunday morning. I’d walk past with my daughter Clare, 7 or 8 at the time. And she’d comment admiringly on the ‘swearing exhibition’ that was going on along with the football.

Sadly the decline in amateur football is such that this morning when I crossed The Mystery there was no organised football taking place at all. There was, however, an organised women’s rugby game. And before the schools broke up for the summer lots of them had their sports days in The Mystery, so I think Philip Holt – if indeed it was him – would still be pleased with the uses of his ‘mysterious’ donation.

And sometimes in the winter it even manages to look mysterious.
And sometimes in the winter it even manages to look mysterious.

So, that was Sunday in the Mystery.

Two days later I’ve just been back to see what all those buds might have done. And I found this intense beauty.

It’s not Monet, it’s The Mystery.

While I was taking the pictures someone came over and asked me if I knew who’d created this. ‘Because it hasn’t just grown here on its own has it?’ she said. We both felt it had the look of a Landlife project by the National Wildflower Centre. But there’s nothing on their website about it.

Or maybe it’s someone at Liverpool City?

Whoever, thank you so much for adding such beauty to our Mystery.

And if you’re in Liverpool, come and see it now. I’ve done my best with the photographs but they’re only photographs. Nature itself has a beauty  you have to sit with. Come and sit with the Mystery’s wildflowers.

2013-08-08 18.04.07

Two days later, fading, dropped and past their zenith, still the petals speak:And just when you think it’s all over, I wander past a week later:

The gift that does indeed keep giving.
The gift that does indeed keep giving.
2013-08-13 16.19.06

Published by Ronnie

Writing about life, Liverpool and anything else that interests me. As well as working with others to make the world a fairer and kinder place:

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  1. Fabulous post! I learned a lot I didn’t know about a place only a mile or so from home. I don’t often walk in the Mystery (Sefton being more regular dog-walking territory) so I’ve never seen the wildflowers where the old sheep pens stood. I must go and see. The story that the mysterious donor might have been Philip Holt chimes with the observation I made at the end of a recent post on my own blog (

    ‘It’s a curious fact that in capitalism’s first great 19th century heyday, in Brussels as in Liverpool, city fathers – wealthy industrialists and merchants – bequeathed acres of valuable land for parks and gardens for the physical and spiritual benefit of their citizens. Name me one example of today’s corporate giants doing the same. In fact, the opposite is invariably the case – green space devoured and public access to urban commons denied.’

    I mean, really, can you imagine Holt’s equivalent giving away such a large swathe of valuable land today?

    1. There’s also the fact that Philip Holt or whoever didn’t give the gift for any personal aggrandisement or title. Simply for the good of the people and the place.

      As you say, what’s gone wrong with the rich these days? I guess some of it is that it’s not so much individuals who see themselves as rich, but listed companies, driven to be forever richer for the endless greed of their shareholders.

      Still, who knows, maybe Peel Holdings will surprise us one of these days and, having bought up the entire waterfront from the airport to ‘Liverpool Waters’ will magnanimously give it back to us ‘to be somewhere for the people of Liverpool to run around and enjoy themselves.’ No, shows what a wonder The Mystery is!

  2. Thank you for the post – awesome!
    Was wondering if you knew where I may obtain any old images of Dudlow Grange?

    1. Glad you liked the post.

      As you’ve probably gathered the blog is about what interests me at the time, rather than a local history service. I’ve done a quick Google check, as you no doubt have and found nothing. So I’d recommend you have a look in Liverpool Central Library, the local history floor.

      1. Thanks. I am in Australia until July 2016, but hopefully can make a quick trip home before then.

  3. Great post. I lived a few minutes walk from the mystery as a child and young adult until I left Liverpool in 1987. I still go back to see family and often walk my sisters dog there. I remember the Liverpool show and bunking in over the wooden spike railings. seeing the live shows and animals. it takes me back and still a well looked after piece of land.

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